Talk of Panel on Dalit Converts Revives Old Debate On Quota

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M H Jawahirullah, MLA, and Manithaneeya Makkal Katchi (MMK) President in Chennai cited several Supreme Court and high court judgments on the status of converted Muslims ruling that Dalit converts are entitled to SC reservation benefits because there is no change in their status either in terms of caste or class after their conversion. 

Syed Ali Mujtaba

The Union government is getting ready to set up a panel to study the condition of Dalits who have converted to Islam or Christianity. The move comes amidst dozens of petitions pending in the Supreme Court asking why reservation benefits are denied to the Dalits who have converted to Christianity or Islam.

Media report citing sources say the proposal to set up such a panel is being discussed at the Union Cabinet level and a decision is likely to be taken soon. The proposed panel may have three to four members with a chairman holding the rank of a Union Cabinet minister.

The national panel will study the social, economic and educational status of Dalits who converted to Islam and Christianity. It will submit its report within a year or so. It is learned that the Ministry of Minority Affairs and the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) have given the green signal for such a move.

In this context, earlier Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had said in Rajya Sabha on February 12, 2021, that Dalit converts to Islam or Christianity cannot claim reservation benefits given to the Schedule Castes (SC). They cannot contest elections from constituencies reserved for the SCs.  The minister, however, clarified that Dalits who are Hindu, Sikh, and Buddhist are eligible to contest from seats reserved for SCs and get other reservation benefits.

“Para 3 of the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order outlines that… no person who professes a religion different from Hinduism, Sikhism or Buddhism shall be deemed to be a member of a Scheduled Caste,” said Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad.  The minister’s statement makes a clear distinction between Dalits adopting Islam and Christianity and those choosing to adopt Sikhism or Buddhism.

However, the Union law minister also clarified that there was no proposal to bring in any amendment in the Representation of the People Act to debar SCs/STs converting to Islam or Christianity from contesting parliamentary or assembly elections.

Opinion on this issue was taken from M H Jawahirullah, MLA, and Manithaneeya Makkal Katchi (MMK) President in Chennai. The MMK leader cited several Supreme Court and high court judgments on the status of converted Muslims. He said the courts have ruled that Dalit converts are entitled to SC reservation benefits because there is no change in their status either in terms of caste or class after their conversion. 

Jawahirullah said that he has brought this matter to the notice of the Tamil Nadu government which assured him that Muslim Dalits will be considered for the SC reservation benefits.

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Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at syedalimujtaba2007@gmail.com

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